Harper Pass - The Original Coast to Coast
My good mate Steve Moffatt told me a story one day about his great, great uncle, George Park, and his brother James who in 1889 carried wooden kayaks from the West coast, up the Taramakau river, over Harper Pass and then paddled down the Hurunui via Lake Sumner and all the way out to the East coast. Then, George the crazy bugger, kept right on going down to Christchurch. George was very probably the first Coast to Coast athlete!
We decided to re-enact the journey, a 13 day, 330km traverse dragging, lugging and paddling two kayaks the whole way. Moffatt did it as his forebears did with only the resources available in 1889. He found the original boat made 128 years ago, and got a replica made by Ian Franklin Boat builders, thus dubbed “Frankie”. George had used his sail as a tent for the trip and unfortunately for Moffatt, this made for a miserably small tent!
I did it with all the modern stuff, neoprene, Gore-tex, and convenient dehydrated, freeze-dried meals from Back Country Cuisine. My kayak of choice for this trip was an Incept Tasman single inflatable kayak. It was almost identical in length and beam to Frankie, but it had a flatter hull, so it wasn’t as fast in a straight line, but it was much more versatile. I easily packed it away for the carry over the pass. At 19 kgs it was less than half the weight of Moffatt’s wooden boat. It was impervious to the rocks, as it’s made of the same stuff as the white water rafts that Incept manufacture. I chose an ingenious after-market sail by Pacific Action. It is a light weight, pop-up design of 17 square feet that has a huge advantage over George’s set-up in that it can be hoisted or retracted in 3 or 4 seconds. George’s rig took a few minutes, and even then the mast had to be left standing. However, George’s rig was slightly more efficient and he could sail closer to the wind. Sound technology from 120 years ago! Despite the differences in sail size, we had similar speed. George and Moffatt used their sails for a tent, and both had only a woolen blanket for a bed. Rather conveniently, I could climb inside my inflatable kayak for a cosy airbed! It was great that I didn’t need to carry a tent or sleeping mat.